Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The extraordinary Edmonia Lewis

Doodle by Sophie Diao

I'm absolutely thrilled to find that today's Google Doodle depicts Edmonia Lewis! I have long had my eye on Ms. Lewis for this Women in the Act project, but was never able to find an artwork depicting her at work. Frustrating! Now at last, I'm able to feature this outstanding artist.

Edmonia Lewis (1844 - 1907) was the first American woman of African American and Native American heritage to achieve international fame as a sculptor. Lewis pioneered a unique style which incorporated African American and Native American cultural themes into her Neoclassical style sculpture. Her independent and adventurous life at a time when women's lives were routinely limited was likewise avant-garde, unique and awe-inspiring.





Lewis was born in New York state to a father of Haitian descent and a mother of Mississauga Ojibwe and African American descent. After her parents’ death when she was nine years old Lewis was adopted by her maternal aunts, who supported the family by crafting and selling Ojibwe baskets and other souvenirs for tourists. Interestingly, at this period of her life Lewis went by her Native American name, Wildfire.  At age 15, Lewis enrolled in Oberlin College, and began her serious study of art. Unfortunately her time at Oberlin was fraught with disruption and outright discrimination. Because of certain charges brought against her (later dismissed) she was prevented from enrolling in her final term, and therefore was unable to receive her degree.

Undaunted, Lewis moved to Boston in 1864, determined to pursue a career as a sculptor. She apprenticed with Edward A. Brackett, a sculptor whose clients included many well-known abolitionists. Lewis worked as Brackett's apprentice until 1864, when she launched her first solo exhibition, which paid homage to the abolitionists and Civil War heroes of the day, including John Brown. Her work became very popular and her financial success allowed her to travel to Italy to further pursue her studies. "I thought I knew everything when I came to Rome, but I soon found I had everything to learn.” Edmonia Lewis (quoted in Romare Bearden'sA History of African-American Artists)


In Rome, Lewis soon joined a circle of expatriate artists and established her own studio. She began sculpting in marble, combining classicism with naturalistic observation and themes relating to African American and Native American people. Her work won respect and fame, and commanded large sums of money. She continued to receive international acclaim until her death in 1911.

Today’s Doodle depicts Lewis sculpting one of her most famous works, The Death of Cleopatra, which is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Her strong yet sensitively realized  portrayal of Cleopatra’s death received the highest praise from critics when it was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. One called it “the most remarkable piece of sculpture in the American section" of the show. 

The artist Sophie Diao who created the Edmonia Lewis Doodle works at Google and freelances for the computer animation industry. She graduated from the California Institute of the Arts in 2013. Her impressive portfolio can be seen here!

Self-Portrait with dog, Sophie Diao



Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Amazing Pan Yuliang

Pan Yuliang "Self Portrait" oil on canvas 1924 Private Collection
Pan Yuliang 潘玉良 (1899-1977) is famous as one of the first Chinese artists with a successful career in "Western Style" painting. She was born Zhang Yuliang 張玉良 in Jiangsu Province on the Eastern Coast of the People's Republic of China, where it borders the Yellow Sea. Yuliang's parents died when she was 14, and her uncle sold her to a brothel.

She caught the attention of a wealthy customs official, Pan Zanha, who purchased her freedom from the brothel and married her as his second wife. He also ensured that she received an education. The family moved to Shanghai in 1920 and Yuliang was accepted into a Shanghai Art College. Shanghai was notable for Haipai, or East Meets West style, and Shanghai artists were open to all kinds of current trends, not focused solely on traditional Chinese culture. After graduation, Zanha sponsored Yuliang's further study in France and in 1925 she won a scholarship to study in Rome. In 1926 she won a major art prize in Rome, and a few years later, she returned to China to exhibit and teach. She had five solo exhibitions from 1929-1936 and taught in Shanghai and also at National Central University in Nanking.


Pan Yuliang "My Family" oil on canvas 1931-32 source: Self-Portraits of Color

Although her work was popular with Chinese audiences at the time, it was also criticized by the government as being too Western. In 1937 she sailed for France again, settling in Paris where she lived and worked the rest of her life. During her career she was on the faculty of the École des Beaux Arts and elected as the Chairman of the Chinese Art Association. Her work was exhibited widely and she won many prestigious prizes. She died at age 78 and is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

Her fascinating and colorful life is the subject of film and literature, the most recent being a fictionalized biography, The Painter from Shanghai, by Jennifer Cody Epstein (2008.) Much of Yiulang's work was returned to China after her death and is held by various national museums and cultural associations there. 


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Studio Air

Emma Amos, Studio Air, acrylic on linen canvas with African fabric borders, 72″ × 61″, 2003
Emma Amos (b.1938) has always been fascinated with fabric, even to the point of weaving her own painting cloth for a time in the nineteen sixties. Her paintings often incorporate distinctively patterned African fabrics as borders which relate in various ways to the central images. Ms. Amos has said of her own work, "I like that people can read their own meanings into my paintings and that those readings may be quite different from mine." This fascinating and many-layered painting, incorporating a self-portrait, definitely sparks off many possible story lines in the viewer's mind.

Georgia-born and raised, Emma Amos has studied and worked in numerous states and countries, but has been based mainly in New York City since the nineteen sixties.  The artist began teaching at Rutgers University in 1980, receiving tenure in 1992 and continuing to teach there until her retirement from academia  in 2008. She has received many honors and fellowships, including the Pollock-Krasner Grant and a Yaddo Artist Residency. Her most recent honor is the Georgia Museum of Art's 2016 Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Award, for "her contribution to visual art in Georgia." Her work is in the collection of that museum as well as many others, including the Library of Congress (USA), the National Gallery of Art (USA)  and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as well as numerous other public and private collections world-wide. She maintains an active studio practice and is represented by Flomenhaft Gallery in NYC. The artist's beautiful website can be seen here.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dragon Painter

Totoya Hokkei Woman Painting a Dragon woodblock print ca. 1832 

This beautiful image is a print, so multiple copies of it exist in various locations, including the Denver Art Museum and the Harvard Art Museum here in the states. I don't know if the painting is illustrating a particular tale or poem or if it is just a fanciful invention. The dragon the artist is painting floats up off the paper, which is certainly the way it feels when an artist is deep into the act of creating.

Totoya Hokkei (1780-1850), was a prolific and successful Japanese artist who worked in numerous genres. He started off life as a fishmonger before turning to painting, eventually becoming one of the great Katsushika Hokusai's first students. Hokkei is best known for his work in the ukiyo-e style depicting the "floating world" of courtesans, actors, theatricals and other aspects of the urban pleasure districts which flourished during the prosperous Edo period. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lluïsa who "Paints Like a Man"

Lluïsa Vidal i Puig Self Portrait 1899

Lluïsa Vidal i Puig (1876-1918) was a Catalan painter from Barcelona. One of twelve children she first studied with her father, Francesc Vidal i Jevellí, who, similar to William Morris in England, was a designer and craftsman deeply involved in the art world. When Lluïsa was sixteen she visited The Prado in Madrid, and was inspired by the works of such great Spanish artists as Diego Velazquez and Francisco Goya.
She began exhibiting her work professionally in 1898 at age 22, and in 1901 she left to study further in Paris. While in that city she became a supporter of the Feminist movement, which she learned about in part through through the ground-breaking French Feminist newspaper called La Fronde. (It's actually kind of amazing, click on the link to learn more!) She left Paris to study for a short time in England.
Lluïsa returned to Barcelona in 1902 at the request of her family,cutting short her study abroad because three of her sisters had fallen ill and her help was needed. To assist the family financially she began giving private art lessons and also worked as an illustrator for Feminal Magazine, a Spanish Feminist publication. She painted and exhibited tirelessly despite the many calls on her time. "Critics, all of whom were male, were awed as well as stumped, using words such as 'Virile" to describe her talent. In surprised admiration, they would write: "She paints so well... she paints like a man!" ("Painted Like a Man, Disappeared like a Woman: Luisa Vidal, The Daughter of Modernism" by Marcy Rudo, OTI, 1998.) She had a major exhibit at lSala Parés, an important art gallery in Barcelona in 1914, receiving rave reviews and accolades. Unfortunately she died only a few years later, during a Spanish Flu epidemic epidemic in 1918. Despite her burgeoning fame and the critical acclaim she received during her lifetime, after her death her name sank into obscurity. Now rediscovered, she is considered part of Modernisme, the Catalan modernist art movement.
Lluïsa Vidal i Puig Self Portrait Date unknown
note: Lluïsa Vidal i Puig's name follows Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Vidal and the second or maternal family name is Puig. She is often most easily searched by using her patronymic, Vidal, rather than Puig.
P.S. Many thanks to my old friend, writer Elizabeth Castro for her kind assistance in finding out more about this wonderful Catalan artist! 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hanna and the Middle Way

Hanna Hirsch-Pauli Portrait of Venny Soldan-Brofeldt ca.1885 Gothenburg Museum of Art
Hanna Hirsch-Pauli (1864-1940) was a Swedish painter who studied in both Sweden and France, and who worked in the juste milieu style. This "middle way" style was thought to reconcile Classicism and Romanticism, or to fall somewhere in between Impressionist artists like Monet and such Pompier artists as Bouguereau. Not avante-garde but modern nonetheless.

Hanna, then Hanna Hirsch, studied in Paris from 1885 through 1887, sharing a studio with her friend the artist Eva Bonnier. Her painting of the Finnish artist Venny Soldan was accepted into the Paris Salon of 1887. It was extremely unconventional for the time, showing her friend seated on the floor, at work on a sculpture with clay on her hands, rather than in more proper bourgeois portrait pose.

Also in 1887, Hanna married the Swedish painter Georg Pauli.

Georg Pauli Hanna in Blue, Painting 1897 Jönköpings läns museum
Hanna hyphenated her name after her marriage though she continued to sign her art with her maiden name. Her output was not large, but very choice. For a nice selection of her images click here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Samizu Times Two

Samizu Matsuki "Self Portrait with Self Portrait" 1970
Samizu Matsuki (b.1936) was born and raised in Hokkaido, Japan and graduated from the Joshibo University of Art and Design in Tokyo. She worked for a few years as an art teacher before meeting and marrying an American, with whom she eventually relocated to the United States. In 1970, the same year she painted this engaging double self-portrait, she plunged wholeheartedly into the New York City art scene. She won several major awards for her oil paintings painted in the "Magic Realism" style. She was one of the first women invited to membership in the prestigious Salmagundi Club.

Samizu studied further at Oregon State University and eventually relocated to Rockland, Maine. Her most recent honors include being an honoree in "Pioneer Women: First Ladies of the Salmagundi" and receiving a Commendation of Achievement from the Maine State Legislature, both in 2011. Samizu's website can be seen here.